Trails and tales…and bogles. A History of East Dunbartonshire

23.06.16 / By Esmee Thompson /

Saturday 18 June saw the official opening of the much awaited exhibition Trails and Tales- a history of East Dunbartonshire in 110 objects.Held at the Auld Kirk Museum in Kirkintilloch, this is a beautifully curated eclectic mix of objects, archives and library material gathered throughout the course of a two year project and providing a snapshot of the history of the 11 towns and villages of East Dunbartonshire. This exhibition gives East Dunbartonshire locals an excellent opportunity to learn about the heritage of their own towns and villages.The opening was a well attended event and locals delighted in the displays, recognised artefacts from their own childhoods and shared stories. One of the most popular exhibits featured the story of Rita Cowan, the ‘muse of Japanese whisky’. Born in Kirkintilloch in 1896, she was the oldest of four siblings. Chance brought Masataka Takersuru, a Japanese Glasgow University student, to her home in East Dunbartonshire. They fell in love. Through his studies in organic chemistry, Masataka became fascinated with the secrets of making whisky.

Opposition to international marriage was strong in 1920 and after a simple ceremony, the couple moved to Japan, where Masataka followed his dream and opened a distillery. This was the birth of Nikka whisky. Rita was known to be a great support to her husband and faced difficult times as a Westerner in Japan during the Second World War. Rita’s story was serialised in Japanese Penthouse in 1987 and featured on Japanese television. Not bad for a lass from Kirky

Sitting proudly in a glass cabinet is a bright yellow banner screaming ‘Keep Kirkintilloch dry, vote Continuance’. Largely due to the influence of the Church, Kirkintilloch was dry between 1921 and 1968. While chatting to a Torrance resident, I learn that this is why nearby village Torrance had three pubs. Nowadays, we can barely imagine the existence of a 1913 Temperance Act, allowing communities to hold a vote to ban the sale of alcohol. We can perhaps better imagine well refreshed locals stoating back to Kirkintilloch after a night on the town in Torrance.A ceramic bogle features, a product of the Milton of Campsie pottery kiln Campsie Ware, established by Liverpudlian Edward Langley in 1946. This cheeky, immaculately maintained goblin was particularly fascinating to the children and seemed to be everywhere….Further into East Dunbartonshire, we learn about the roots of artist Robert Lille (1867-1979), whose French Huguenot ancestors settled in Scotland from Lille. He left the residue of his estate for the building and furnishing of what became Milngavie’s Lille Art Gallery. This venue is of course much loved by locals attending art classes and is used to display a wide range of exhibitions and artworks .

Also featured is a replica of the incredible Bearsden shark fossil, the original being on display in Glasgow University. We learn that this was taken from 330 million year old carboniferous rocks of Bearsden, and was discovered in the early 80s by a Manpower services supervisor . We also see a beautiful stained glass window from Woodilee hospital which was at one time the largest parochial asylum in Scotland. We read about the events taken place as part of this project, including walks in local areas, women’s history events and talks about Caurnie Soaperie and Pulp Works. We learn about Kirkintilloch as a centre of the iron industry, with its foundry producing iconic red telephone boxes and post boxes. This fascinating exhibition is an excellent opportunity to share stories and learn about the history of your own community. It runs until 16 July and admission is free.

Sarah Ennis, Volunteer Journalist for Trails and Tales